Editor’s Notes: The following article is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Endless Summer – The Birth of the Blockbuster which runs from August 30th to September 1st at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
After Ridley Scott’s patient, slow burning sci-fi horror-thriller success, the studio were itching to get another one out there to continue the canon. James Cameron was on duty for directing and writing this time. The smartest move James Cameron makes for Aliens is that he doesn’t rehash its predecessor with any claustrophobic surprise horror; instead he goes all guns blazing, turning this into a visceral action-thriller bleeding acidic tension. Changing the sequel into something that continues, pays respect but doesn’t rip off is a difficult task for any writer or director but James Cameron worked on making this one of the most creatively successful sequels of all time. He didn’t dare to stay strict to the rules of the sci-fi already established but advance it even further, creating more mythology surrounding the current one. This is how you extend a universe into something new but satisfyingly similar.
Changing the sequel into something that continues, pays respect but doesn’t rip off is a difficult task for any writer or director but James Cameron worked on making this one of the most creatively successful sequels of all time.
Enter Ripley (played of course by Sigourney Weaver) again, she remains in hyper sleep with mischievous cat, Jones, to be salvaged and awoken by Weyland-Yutani. There she learns that she’s been in hyper sleep for 57 years, floating endlessly through space, being picked up by pure chance. When she starts to tell everyone her story about the Xenomorph, no one believes her as it was investigated to no evidence of an alien creature but instead a whopping bill from the self-destruct button that she had authorised. LV-426, where they originally found the Xenomorph, has now been terraformed into a habitable planet with families living there much to Ripley’s shock and surprise. No one believes her until they get a call about a familiar facehugger, causing Ripley and a team of marines to investigate the station.
A running time shrunk per the studio’s request, action, huge sets, breakthrough special effects, this could be the definition of one of the first true blockbusters. Many have since followed suit, usually not straying from a familiarly formulaic structure. If you look at the Save the Cat! beat sheet, you’ll recognise that Aliens does a lot as they say but what it also does - especially in the Director’s Cut/Special Edition - is explore the characters. It gives them more than one-dimensional and an arc to play through, especially our lead Ripley who is trying to forget the trauma of the original movie. Playing with the characters adds a texture to it, one that sees a lot more people enjoying and investing in the movie itself instead of spectating simple carnage. Characters become people you are willing to survive rather than expendables you do not care survive or not - although there are a couple in here.
James Cameron’s approach to all the hardware is something that helps build up an authenticity. Creating new weapons that are explained, named and aimed to precision.
James Cameron’s approach to all the hardware is something that helps build up an authenticity. Creating new weapons that are explained, named and aimed to precision. Everything is created in a industrial style to be efficient but dark and unwelcoming, creating a gloomy atmosphere, even as families play around inside before the attack. Once the attack is hit, it’s like a hard-hitting apocalyptic war zone Details is what helps make a sci-fi organic but at the same time mechanical and with purity - a bit like Bishop (Lance Henriksen), the android, instead of the flawed Ash. It shows an advancement in the universe, that it’s progressing, striving for perfection, while being hunted down by the ultimate hunter.
Aliens is layered in subtext, from the dominant feminist hero , a far cry from slashers’ “final girl”; to a possibly intentional political standpoint mimicking the Vietnam war. It’s unlikely but it could even be about the arrogance of the American military while Hudson brags about him and his band of “badasses” that go in gung-ho to be ripped apart by the Xenomorphs. Aliens is far from simple but never too focused on a point or a message to not make it one of the most entertaining and rewarding viewing experiences in sci-fi history. You get to know the characters that are faced against a constant wave of angry aliens who are basically the ultimate weapon. Aliens is such a success because it’s built upon the story that Ridley Scott told in 1976, then raised the stakes to create an energetic, physical experience that’s as gripping as it is interesting.
[notification type=”star”]96/100 ~ MASTERFUL. The smartest move James Cameron makes for Aliens is that he doesn’t rehash its predecessor with any claustrophobic surprise horror; instead he goes all guns blazing, turning this into a visceral action-thriller bleeding acidic tension.[/notification]